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Exploring Traditional Ceramics

Caroline posing with pottery on display outside a shop

By Caroline L., YES Abroad 2022-2023 Morocco

I had the chance to travel outside of Rabat over my school break and it was one of the best weeks of my life. The whole trip went smoothly, despite having been planned at the last minute, which I think was due to a lot of the skills I've gained from these past five months living abroad, a little luck, and the fact that we actually benefitted from being able to take opportunities as they appeared, instead of being hemmed in by a rigid itinerary. I traveled with my language partner, who has been my best friend, dedicated teacher, and thoughtful guide throughout these past five months in Morocco.

We took the train to Marrakech and stayed in a hostel that we had to take 16 wrong turns in the old medina to find. We met people from all over the world...even someone from South Korea! We ended up hanging out with the Moroccan workers all night, joking around in Darija and gossiping about other guests...It was so much fun getting to know them and practicing my darija. I realized how far I've come in m exchange when I was in a room with English speaking people from nearly every country and yet I felt most comfortable joking around with the Moroccans in their native tongue.

Caroline in Moulay Brahim posing with two children
Moulay Brahim, learning about Amazigh culture and visiting family:

My friend hadn’t traveled on her own before this, so we were both figuring out the “solo” travel thing together. I am so grateful for all the people who helped us get from point a to b. Moroccans are generally super kind and willing to help and something I love about the culture is how acceptable it is to ask random people for directions or advice.

Marrakech is a popular destination for Europeans, so it feels touristy. Luckily, we got to see the surrounding countryside, which offered a little different view of Middle South Morocco. My friend sat in my lap squeezed inside a minibus for over an hour of swervey mountain roads until we reached a small town called Moulay Brahim. We both threw up as soon as we got out, but I guess that’s the unhidden coast of 10-dirham transport.

It was crazy seeing giant snowy mountains in the same horizon as palm trees and cactus. If you swapped the Arabic on the road signs for Spanish I’d think we were in Mexico.

Pottery fountains on display in a shop

I was actually traveling for the purpose of doing research on Moroccan ceramics, so we discussed the local pottery scene over a warm meal with my friend's family and got to tour the town. They had two little girls and we played soccer and had fun trying to learn some Amazigh words.

We also got to see Amzmiz, another town at the foothills of the mountains where I got to talk to a local potter and learn how to make a traditional tagine. I will always remember climbing into the muddy hole you have to sit in to use the wheel and getting covered from head to toe in red clay—one of the reasons the countryside near Marrakesh is famous for quality tagine production.

Caroline molding a tagine
Learning to make a traditional tagine

Next, we traveled to a coastal city called Asafi, that reminded me of Rabat if you wound the clock back 100 years.

Asafi is a city traded amongst many hands which is evident in it’s beautiful, if not slightly mismatched, jumble of catholic churches, mosques, castles and winding medina streets. Asafi is famous for three things: surfing, sardines, and pottery. Moroccans and foreigners consider it to be the pottery capital of the world and I could see why the minute we stepped off the train.

Pottery lines every street like sand. Colorful cups are stacked mile high, and everything is made from clay.

We got to do an extensive tour of the place where everything is made. It was so cool seeing the traditional kiln and walking in the old tunnels they used to dig out the clay.

This trip was a whirlwind of unexpected adventures and I learned so much. We got back to Rabat late at night, laden with a giant sack of whole Walnuts (a gift from my friend's family), way too many clay items, and a giant self-constructed tagine. I love that I felt like I was coming back home after a long adventure, because that’s what Rabat is to me, home...